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By James B. Nelson October 28, 2015

Russ Feingold changes his tune on campaign contributions

More than 20 years ago, when he was first running for U.S. Senate, Democrat Russ Feingold painted a list of promises on the garage door of his Middleton home.

Those 1992 vows -- he called it a contract with Wisconsin voters -- formed the basis of Feingold’s unusual "everyman" campaign. They were highlighted in memorable TV ads created by the late Steve Eichenbaum.

Among the promises: Feingold said he would "rely on Wisconsin citizens for most of my contributions."

That grassroots approach helped him win the Senate seat three times. But in 2010, Feingold was ousted by Republican businessman Ron Johnson, who spent millions of his own money on the race.

In May 2015, Feingold announced that he would challenge Johnson in 2016. Six weeks later, Feingold filed his first campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission. It showed he had already raised about $2.3 million.

The National Journal reported Aug. 13, 2015 that it had examined Feingold’s individual contributions and determined  the majority of the money had come from out of state.

Times change. And so do positions.

Cue the Flip-O-Meter, which examines whether a politician has changed position on an issue. Remember: It does not measure whether any change is good or bad policy or politics, only whether the candidate has been consistent.

The more-than-half-from-Wisconsin pledge is not a 1992 campaign relic. Feingold followed it in his re-election bids in 1998, 2004 and in 2010.

This time around it was clear early on that Feingold planned to run a different kind of campaign.

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In an Aug. 13, 2015 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feingold noted that the campaign finance rules were different now than when he first ran for federal office.

The McCain-Feingold campaign finance rules that he famously championed have been undone by the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens’ United decision, which unleashed virtually unlimited campaign contributions to outside groups.  

Feingold said he will not operate in this campaign by the pledge he made in past races.

"It makes no sense now," he said.

Feingold argues the pledge was made on an election-to-election basis.

"Every single election is different based on the reality of the campaign finance law at the time," he said. "What I did in the past is to offer a pledge or a series of proposals for a six-year term."

Maybe so, but that does not affect us here. We’re rating the consistency of a position, not whether a promise had been broken.

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In four Senate campaigns, Feingold abided by the pledge he inscribed on his garage door: He would raise the majority of his campaign cash from Wisconsin residents.

Feingold said he was changing with the times, and is no longer bound by his previous pledge.

That’s a complete reversal. And a Full Flop.

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Russ Feingold changes his tune on campaign contributions

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